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Serbia pushes EU bid; Macedonia split over polls

Monday, April 28, 2014 - 02:24

April 28 - With an eye on EU accession, Serbia's parliament approves a new cabinet and a pro-reform agenda. But recent tensions with Kosovo and a disputed election result in neighbouring Macedonia heighten the risk profile for membership. Hayley Platt reports.

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They're neighbours in the Balkan region that went through a decade of war and international isolation in the 90s. Now, following elections in Serbia last month and Macedonia at the weekend, both countries plan to concentrate on growing their economies. Serbia voted in a new PM - Aleksandar Vucic's Progressive Party won by a landslide 158 out of 250 seats. Now he's promising a package of deep economic reforms including cutting the country's bloated public sector, reforming the pension system and revising its labour laws. Subsidies to loss-making state firms will also be trimmed. And tackling crime and corruption will be high on the list. (SOUNDBITE) (Serbian) INCOMING SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER, ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SAYING: "Growth in Serbia has been modest and weak in recent years. It wasn't all due to the consequences of the global economic crisis. Those who led our country behaved carelessly, spent money that we don't have, stole for themselves, employed more and more people in the public sector. Not a single concrete decision has been made, and even those that have been made, were simply catastrophic." He's pledged to cut 1.5 billion euros per year. And he's not looking too far from home to meet the target - including slashing back on state vehicles. (SOUNDBITE) (Serbian) INCOMING SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER, ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SAYING: "You have your salaries, buy a car, drive a car, don't drive on state money, don't waste the state's money." Vucic says entry into the EU will be a priority - even if, in his words, it's not "an ideal community''. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due in Belgrade to meet him and address parliament. She's thought likely to press Vucic - a former ultra-nationalist - for more progress on patching up relations with Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia in 2008. That progress is seen as a key condition of EU membership hopes. They may also discuss political tensions in neighbouring Macedonia. Weekend elections there saw its ruling conservative party securing a third term. The result is disputed by the opposition, which alleges ''threats and blackmails and massive buying of voters". The former Yugoslav republic is still one of Europe's poorest countries with unemployment currently above 28 percent. But Nikola Gruevski, who remains prime minister, is credited with building growth, cutting public debt and attracting foreign investment.

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Serbia pushes EU bid; Macedonia split over polls

Monday, April 28, 2014 - 02:24